Tag Archives: vegetarian

Power cuts, and sweet potato stew with cowpeas and dawadawa

Yesterday morning at six, we woke to a power cut. Not unusual, there have been power cuts on and off all week. After ten minutes, the power came back — the compound generator — but then electrical items started to spark and pop. And smoke. The landlord blames a power surge from ECG (Electricity Company of Ghana), but we think it was a generator switch issue, since the generator was on by then and we should have been off-grid. Oh well. Internet router burner out, USB charger burnt out, converters gone. We are making do with borrowed bit and interim Internet, it could have been worse. Fortunately we have surge protectors for most items.

Thank goodness we do have a generator! The power has been out in parts of Accra since yesterday morning: 39 hours and still counting. Our generator is running low in fuel, a neighbour just said, so best to cook early just in case.

Plenty of people complaining on Twitter. No electricity means no running water, no fans against mosquitos, no phone charging, food spoiling. And now there is a storm with heavy rain. Good weather to write about sweet potato stew, though!

Dawadawa is fermented locusts bean, used in West African cuisine, with many reported benefits. It smells like fish sauce, quite pungent, and I used it instead of a stock cube. Interesting flavour. I was making a sweet potato stew, with black chickpeas and cowpeas. However, as I peeled the sweet potato, it was clear there would be far less sweet potato than expected, due to the many  little worms the peeling revealed. Sorry if you this make you squeamish, this is such non-Pinterest friendly cooking! I was not going to throw this all away. I am not throwing away food, and most of this could be salvaged. There is famine  in South Sudan. I just cut off the wormy bits, to keep this vegetarian. I was going to use peanut butter, but as mine had sugar in it I swapped to cashew butter at the last minute. There are some delicious groundnut soups here, this is just bit lighter.

Sweet potato, cowpea and cashew butter soup

1 tbs sunflower oil
200 grammes unsweetened cashew nut paste (or peanut butter)
1 large onion, peeled
5 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
3 tbs tomato paste
1 litre water
1 tsp dawadawa (or a stock cube)
750  grammes of sweet potato, peeled
500 grammes cooked cowpeas and black chickpeas (whatever you have of pulses)

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat cashew nut paste gently for a few minutes. About a cup is fine, I was just emptying a jar. Make sure it does not burn., stir now and then. The nut paste will become more liquid, and will release oil. In the interim, chop your onion, garlic, and ginger. Add this to the warm nut paste, with spices and tomato paste. Then I moved this to my slow cooker, with a litre of hot water, and cooked it for a couple hours on high. Not so much that the sweet potato went soft. At the end, I added the cooked cowpeas and black chickpeas, salt and pepper.


It was nice! We had it as is one day, and with mograbieh (giant Lebanese couscous) and cheese the next day. And four portions went in the freezer, as backup for our vegetarian friend. Or lunch for me!


Tandoori spice baked aubergines on a vegetable-rice bed


It’s almost at the end of August, but still quiet here. Schools do not seem to start until mid-September, so the buses are intermittent, the metro pleasantly spacious (quite odd!), and many shops are still closed. The worst heat may be over, and I stocked up on vegetables on my way home, noting the usual accumulation of older men outside the ferramenta (hardware store), the bar and their venue with the yellow & red door, for the Rome football club. Very location and time specific, these gatherings. The older ladies never seem to congregate in quite the same way. Regardless of age, people lean out of their windows in the evenings, often in their undershirts, to catch a whiff of a breeze, to see what is happening in the piazza (not much), and to toss comments back to someone inside the other shuttered rooms.

albergo rosso
The Albergo Rosso in Garbatella. Almost tandoori red? I’d seen a recipe like this recently calling for aubergines and curry paste, which I did not have, but I excavated a really old jar of tandoori-barbecue spice powder of dubious vintage, which worked just fine. You might need less spices if yours are fresher. Taste them to see. At least with the heat relenting, it is possible to cook again, which is wonderful!

Tandoori-spice baked aubergines on a vegetable-rice bed

Three small aubergines, sliced lengthwise
200 ml plain yoghurt
2 tbs tandoori-barbecue spice powder (use less if yours is not quite old…)
3 tbs olive oil, to grease aubergine bases

1.5 cups rice
3 cups water
1 onion, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
10 cherry tomatoes


Heat your oven to 220C. Slice the aubergines lengthwise in three. I took off a little on either side so the slices would lie flat. Brush the bases with a little olive oil or sunflower oil, so they do not stick. Stir your spices into the yoghurt, and spoon some over each aubergine slice. Bake at 220C for a couple glasses of wine  — until they are soft — maybe 30 min?

Separately, boil your rice. Just before it is done, toss your chopped onion and chopped bell peppers on top, so they steam just a bit. Spread the cooked rice out on a serving dish, add some halved cherry tomatoes, and top with some of the baked aubergines.

tandoori spice baked aubergines

I could have sliced these, to faciliatate diner in the sofa, but that would look quite messy. Tuesday is TV night, when a friend comes over, so we enjoyed this with “Alpha House”  and “Dag”, the latter a dark Norwegian comedy. After months of Scandi thriller noir, it was a nice change!

Mara’s Melanzane alla parmigiana

GarbatellaIt may look like summer, but we have had some cool days in Rome, unusual for late May. Our condominium just started using email, so my mailbox is abuzz with discussions about installing bicycle racks in the courtyard (very contentious in the past) and possibly some vegetable growing boxes on the roof terrace. The neighbours are nice, and there are dinners now and then, which is where I learned to make this melanzane alla parmigiana. Very tasty, but often a bit greasy, until our neighbour Mara instructed me on the superior, Neapolitan way to bake this.

Ingredients are key, she said. You need the medium purple striped aubergines, not the dark purple ones. The cheese should be fior di latte, a cow’s milk mozzarella, but only from a specific area near Naples. Otherwise you might as well not bother, apparently. All I know is that her melanzane alla parmigiana was rich in taste, but light in texture, and I asked how she managed that.

Frying aubergines
What Romans do wrong, it seems, is to fry the eggplant slices in olive oil directly. That soaks up the oil and makes them heavy and oil-laden. Some people dip the eggplant in flour, not recommended either. No, the trick is to beat a couple eggs, and dip the eggplant slices in that before frying them in peanut oil, then draining them on kitchen roll. Then you get crispy golden eggplant that is still light. Then she sent me home with two of the right kind of aubergines to try making it, which I did.

Draining aubergines

My version of Mara’s Melanzane alla parmigiana

Tomato sauce:
2 cloves of garlic
One onion
1 tsp olive oil
800 gr tinned or fresh chopped tomatoes
3 tbs tomato paste
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of salt, pinch of pepper
4-5 basil leaves

2 eggs
50 ml peanut oil
2 medium purple eggplants

To assemble:
300 grammes mozzarella (fior di latte, from cow’s milk), thinly sliced

Cut the aubergines lengthways into 4-5mm slices. Beat the eggs. Heat the oil, and dip each slice of aubergine briefly in the egg, allowing it to drip off, before drying it in the hot oil. When golden, turn and fry on other side. Stack the fried aubergine slices on a plate, 2-3 slices a time layered between paper towel to absorb oil.

In the meantime, make tomato sauce. Chop onion and garlic, fry gently in olive oil then add tomato. Add salt, pepper, sugar, basil, and tomato paste. Cook gently under lid 30 minutes or so.

Slice your mozzarella. Now, you have everything ready. Heat oven to 200C.

Take a large baking dish, and ladle in 4-5 generous spoons of tomato sauce. Add a layeer of fried aubergine slices, then mozzarella slices. Repeat layers: tomato, eggplant, mozzarella, until you only have a little tomato sauce left to finish, and a little mozzarella to shred over the top. Bake 30 minutes at 200C until crusty, golden and bubbling.

Melanzane alla parmigiana
Not quite as good as Mara’s, but still so tasty that I barely got to take a picture before it was almost all gone!

Fiesta Friday

I am bringing this to Fiesta Friday, with many thanks to the hosts: Angie @The Novice Gardener and cohosted by two brilliant bloggers, Dini @Giramuk’s Kitchen and Mollie, The Frugal Hausfrau. Many thanks!